Prince George’s County schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell is the first to admit that when he pledged to visit all 205 schools in Maryland’s second-largest school district during his first year on the job, he wasn’t so sure it was a realistic goal.
Then came the snow days, the rescheduled tests and other emergencies that forced him to repeatedly change his schedule during the past nine months.
But on Thursday afternoon, when Maxwell stepped on the red carpet outside Fairmont Heights High School in Capitol Heights and walked through the front doors, he not only fulfilled his promise of visiting 205 schools in 180 days, he did it with 15 school days to spare.
Maxwell, who was hired in July as the eighth schools chief in 14 years, has a mission of turning around the long-struggling school system. A native of Prince George’s who also spent much of his career there, he was hired to help usher in County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s vision to bolster the system, what Baker (D) believes could be a centerpiece of the county’s future economic prosperity.
In his first year, Maxwell has strived to fully understand the system he is leading. He has traveled more than 1,600 miles, toured thousands of classrooms and met countless students during his quest to get firsthand knowledge about what is happening in the county’s classrooms.
He has watched students engaged in environmental science projects, discovered a Spanish immersion program in an inner-Beltway elementary school and learned how a high school that specializes in information technology has helped the system save $7 million by helping to refurbish old computers.
“I have seen some stellar teachers and great learning,” Maxwell told a group of teachers, administrators, students and board members. “What I’ve seen you can’t see in a report or an e-mail.”
In March 2013, Baker sought a takeover of the school system. Instead, the General Assembly gave him more authority over leadership, allowing him to name the new chief and appoint members to the new school board. Maxwell became a focal point of the turnaround, and he launched his 205-schools-in-180-days quest shortly after he joined the system.
Though Baker’s battle with the elected school board, which opposed the takeover, left many teachers and other employees demoralized, many in the county thought Maxwell was a great choice.
Kenneth Haines, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said selecting Maxwell has helped to restore confidence.
“Maxwell’s hands-on approach to management has proven welcome and reassuring in every venue . . . whether he is noticing needed repairs to the physical plant and calling facilities, engaging children in the instructional process or expressing appreciation to all employees for their efforts on behalf of children,” Haines said.
Christian Rhodes, Baker’s education aide, said the visits have not only given a “jolt of energy to the school district,” they have provided Maxwell with knowledge to make informed decisions about the district’s needs.
Maxwell, for example, increased the number of art teachers in the budget after seeing how stretched the current art teachers are. And he added language immersion classes after witnessing the work done at an elementary school in Capitol Heights.
Maxwell was given a framed certificate at Fairmont Heights. It will be added to his collection.
His Upper Marlboro office is filled with rubber band-bound welcome banners signed by high school students and handwritten thank-you cards made by elementary school students.
Sophomore Catelyn Barnes, 16, said she hoped Maxwell left with a greater impression of her school, which once held one of the worst reputations in the county.
“I hope he sees that Fairmont Heights is rising up,” she said.